How to cook quinoa

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Beautiful flowering quinoa

Quinoa is a great source of protein, fibre and minerals. I use quinoa as a replacement for rice or potatoes with a lot of dishes. You can use it in baking and also make great breakfasts. At first I was a bit unsure about what to do with this strange new food. I even bought a packet and kept it unused until it was past its best before date! But after a leap of faith I now love it and use it often.

Quinoa (pronounced /ˈkinwɑ/ KEEN-wah) is a pseudocereal or a grain like seed rather than a true cereal. There are three main types of quinoa… white, red and black. Quinoa needs to be both rinsed and soaked before cooking, so it can be hard to get together quickly sometimes. I like to cook a big batch, and then freeze portions ready to pair with a curry or stew.

To get the best out of your quinoa you need to maximise your soaking time. Try to soak your quinoa 12 hours overnight or for 24 hours if possible.

Why soak it?

Grains, nuts and seeds including quinoa contain phytic acid, a mineral blocker that prevents absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. The phytic acid in the quinoa prevents nutrient absorption. Phytic acid is well documented to block absorption of not only of phosphorus, but also other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Phytic acid is tightly bound in the phosphorus content of seeds, grains and legumes, especially the bran portion of grain or the outer layer of legumes. Rinsing is also required to reduce the saponin content, which tastes very bitter and irritate the immune system.

Soaking quinoa at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius) will reduce the phytic acid by up to 77% according to research done by the Weston A. Price foundation.  The soaking period will be much more productive in a warm place. Placing the soaking grains or batter in the warmest place of the house is a good idea, especially in the winter. It’s also important that the soaking water or liquid is acidic. This will further break down the quinoa for easy digestion. You should add about one tablespoon of something acidic to the soaking water per cup of water. Raw apple cider vinegar is the best choice here as it also contains useful enzymes which further assist to break down the quinoa.

Why eat quinoa?

Quinoa is a nutrient dense food that is high in fibre and protein, low GI and gluten free. It’s a good source of magnesium, phosphorus and manganese.

The nutrient breakdown for 1 cup of cooked quinoa, or 185 grams is:

  • Protein 8 grams.
  • Fibre 5 grams.
  • Manganese 58% RDA.
  • Magnesium 30% RDA.
  • Folate 19% RDA.
  • Copper 18% RDA.
  • Iron 15% RDA.
  • Zinc 13% RDA.
  • Potassium 9% RDA.
  • Vitamins B1, B2 and B6 over 10%RDA.

Is quinoa paleo?

Word on the interwebs is that it’s not. Quinoa is a seed not a grain, however the majority of paleo sources agree that it can irritate the gut and is grown via farmed agriculture so it is not technically paleo.

Most of the reasons not to eat it can be reduced significantly by rinsing and soaking, so I think it is a good addition to most diets. I have tried a full paleo diet and found I personally do better with some grains in my diet. If I have to pick one out of all of them, it would be Quinoa.

Basic quinoa recipe

  • Prep time: 5 mins
  • Cook time: approx 25 mins
  • Total time: 30 mins
  • Serves: 4
  • Gluten free
  • Casein and Dairy free


  • 1 cup of organic quinoa ( I like to make the tricolour quinoa which has a mix of black, white and red quinoa.)
  • Lots of water for rinsing and soaking
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups of water or stock to cook.


  1. Take one large pan
  2. Pour your cup of quinoa into a sieve and place over the Pan.
  3. Rinse the quinoa 3 or 4 times, then leave in in the pan covered with water for 12 to 24 hours or overnight. Add the apple cider vinegar and cover the pot.
  4. When you are ready to cook it, drain the quinoa in the sieve.
  5. Place the soaked quinoa back in the pot with 2 cups of water or stock. (The stock adds a lot more flavour if you use it in a salad)
  6. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until cooked.
  7. Between 1/2 and 1 cup of cooked quinoa is a good standard portion size per person. You can portion out 1/2 cup measures of the cooked quinoa and freeze for later if you have too much. You can easily double the recipe to stock up your freezer.

You can also cook your quinoa in broth for more flavour.

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